Friday, October 18, 2013

Settle into anime this fall with Spice and Wolf

Friends and readers often ask me for new anime recommendations, but the truth is that I'm a bit behind this year.

Attack on Titan is pretty great, but I haven't had the time to devote to it - mostly because I've been catching up on the classics like Spice and Wolf.  Many might wonder how a series from 2008 could qualify as classic, and it's a fair question, but Spice and Wolf establishes solid themes and characters which are rarely seen in anime - or television in general.

Set in a fantasy medieval world, Spice and Wolf isn't a swords & elves anime slash-'em-up.  In fact, the main character Kraft Lawrence can barely hold a sword - he's a young and ambitious spice merchant who's trying to turn a tidy profit and dreams of one day opening up a shop of his own where he can charge people a fair price for quality goods.

Early on his journey, he meets a personification of a forgotten pagan harvest deity named Holo who's having a rough time of things.  She quickly convinces Lawrence to help her head back to her homeland far in the north where she hasn't been made obsolete by the church.

The journey Holo and Lawrence face isn't an easy one, however, and there are plenty of obstacles in their path... but they're obstacles that to a cerebral team can reasonably overcome, like disingenuous guild masters and rival merchants looking to take advantage of Lawrence's trusting nature.

Also, there's the church - which as it turns out, isn't too keen on a pagan goddess-turned-wolfgirl stalking around their lands.

Spice and Wolf isn't a series to watch if you're expecting a lot of action scenes or tense, dramatic developments.  It's an anime to watch as you settle down on the couch with a glass of hot apple cider or spiced wine when you're free to devote all of your attention to it.

The relationship between Lawrence and Holo quickly becomes the focus of the show as the two unlikely traveling companions learn that they have more to offer to one another than they initially expected.  In dealing with the human world, Holo learns a great deal about humility and the greed of mankind while Lawrence learns that it's sometimes ok to set aside the merchant's scales and dreams of life when you find someone worth spending your time with.

It's the sort of anime that will appeal to fans of honest, deep romances and attention-focused roleplaying game players alike.  There's never a huge battle with bands of brigands, but the amount of sheer detail you get to see in the world of Spice and Wolf is absolutely amazing.

One word of caution bears mentioning - while it's in no means reliant on fan service, Holo does get naked.  A lot.  But it's handled in an artistic manner and is never sexualized in an ecchi or immature manner.  Taken for who and what she is (a millennia old nature spirit) her lack of clothing makes sense - as does Lawrence's prudishness around her oft-unclothed form.

This shouldn't dissuade you from checking Spice and Wolf out, however.  It follows the manga very closely, and shows a keen understanding of medieval economics and interpersonal relationships.  It's a rare anime, and one that's perfectly suited for autumn viewing.

The first season of Spice and Wolf *used* to be on Netflix, but can now be found on hulu.  Thankfully, Netflix finally got around to posting the second season - Spice and Wolf II - although there's no telling how long they'll have the license for, so snatch up the 12 episodes of the first season quickly before tackling the second dozen on Netflix.